Monday, 19 December 2011

Getting Stuck in Mud

Our paddocks slope gently (well, mostly gently) down to a canal and we have good drainage, so we don't have a problem with boggy ground in wet conditions. However no-one can escape mud at the moment. This is our second winter keeping livestock and as last year the ground was frozen solid for about 4 months we were not prepared for the skid-fest conditions that met us this weekend when we tried to drive a load of hay down to our shed. I watched as my husband (looking resigned to his fate) and dog (looking alarmed) skidded out of control in the 4x4 past the shed and headed for the ditch at the bottom of the slope. Luckily he managed to steer into a post and his fall was stopped. How stupid of us to try and drive on the steepest bit of paddock in these wet conditions.

Then, of-course, is started to rain and we quickly had to drag a ton of hay in bags up the slope to the shed. Joy.

We abandoned the pick-up. We had two choices - wait for better conditions (possibly in spring?) or get our next door neighbours JCB to pull the van out and have swathes of pasture carved up as a result. However it all came good in the end as the following morning we were blessed with the first (and possibly only) hard frost of the winter. The pick-up sailed up the hill without a care in the world. Phew.

More frosts please.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Art of Patience

After the last 4 weeks of being spat and moaned at and not being able to provide an A, D & E injection I finally got fed-up and contacted Julie Taylor-Browne of for some advice about my almost-berserk female (see previous posts). I felt that I was just not making much progress and was getting disheartened. Two years ago I went on Julie's 2 day Camelidynamics introduction course where I learnt (amongst many other things) about the benefits of using a body wrap on a nervous animal. This is when you tie a long bandage in a specific way around the body to form a sort of "hug" that releases happy endorphines and helps to calm an animal. Temple Grandin uses a similar technique with her "squeeze chute" for cattle (see and her book "Animals in Translation"). HOWEVER I don't fancy tying said bandage around this girl when I'm on my own in a remote location, she's big and strong and angry. However Julie has come up with an apparently very effective alternative - the neck wrap. So I've bought one from her website (it has a handy clipping mechanism) and will let you know how I get on.

After reading the articles on her website I now realise that I need to go at this girl's pace not mine, i.e. the learning process may take months and I need to give her plenty of time to assimilate and learn new behaviours. In the mean-time I need to get some A,D & E into her without having 2 men sit on her while I do it. So I'm going to get her into a mini-pen we have on-site and distract her with food, perhaps then I'll be able to lean through the pen bars and pop a quick injection into her shoulder skin without having to provide any further restraint (another Julie-tip). At the moment I can hold her round her neck happily while she's eating and feel along her body - I'm hoping food will provide not just a good distraction while I'm performing nasty husbandry procedures, but also a useful tool to help her learn to relax and behave calmly.

Also, everyone has started eating hay like it's going out of fashion. I've got some particularly sweet and green stuff this year. I often fancy a mouthful myself now the weather has turned inclement.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Camel Whispering Part 3

Well, the A,D & E injection attempt on the difficult girl didn't go as well as the lambivac injection had done previously. Instead of just myself and my husband I had a few other helpers that day and it was too difficult to keep everything and everyone calm. We only managed to get 1ml into her and then I called a halt as she began to shake and bounce around and required the force of more than one person to hold her.

So I've decided to work with her 3+ times a week on my own for another 3 weeks before trying to inject her again. I'm being very patient and just standing with her in the pen, putting my arm out and doing some gentle TTouches and holds on her neck. No spitting at all today!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A,D & E, Lambivac, Toe-nails and Camel Whispering Update

The clocks have gone back so now is the time to start dosing everyone with A,D & E. I'm using Hipravit this year (supplied by Inca alpacas) as I prefer an injectable to a drench (more reliable and no scary choking). It's also time for the lambivac vaccinations so we've set to and got everyone done, throwing in a pedicure for free.

Getting all of our herd done was no problem (well, not much, we have a kicker who has curly toenails - always tricky). But tackling the challenging girl in the herd I manage is another story (see previous posts). She needed her lambivac but I didn't want to undo all the work I've been doing with her by having to man-handle her. So my husband and I caught and held her as gently and quietly as possible. She spat like billyo but managed to stand for us with my husband just holding her neck and steadying her body (it helps a great deal if the alpaca is balanced on their legs properly). The gentle approach definitely worked, but after the injections she started to get too stressed to handle without force so I trimmed the ends off her toenails just as she stood, distracting her with a bit of camelibre.

Even though we've been on holiday so camel whispering sessions have been limited, I can now stand in the pen with this girl and hold her around the neck while she remains quiet so there has been good improvement. A,D & E injections on Friday will be the next test.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Camel Whispering

I've been doing some research recently on "berserk alpaca syndrome" as I felt I needed to think more about why the girl I look after has become more difficult to handle. Is it a dominance thing or a defensive thing? How berserk is she? Over the last couple of years I have definitely seen an increase in dominant behaviour from her, e.g. nudging me if I'm in between her and the trough. However it's only in the last 6 months or so that she has started to spit at humans and become difficult to handle during husbandry duties. This marked change in behaviour came shortly after some dogs got into their paddock and targeted her for their attack. She came out almost unscathed but was shocked. On reflexion I think she is using dominant behaviour to defend herself, i.e. she will only spit if I corner, move or handle her. She won't stand quietly if I hold her around her neck and it takes two people to handle her before she will submit and stay still.

I've taken what I know from camelidynamics and combined it with a bit of Monty Robert's "Join-up" method for horses to come up with an action plan. I tried this out today:

- I penned the female on her own by inticing her in with food. The other girls were just outside the pen and were relaxed throughout.

- I let her eat and then stood very calmly at her side by her shoulder with my arms down and not making eye contact. She remained calm until I stretched out my arm to touch her neck, and then she started spitting. I didn't react at all to her spitting (not nice for me) except to lower my arm. I wanted to show her that her spitting would have no effect and that I wasn't going to back off, but neither was I going to harm her or grab her.

- After three times she stopped spitting! I stood next to her calmly for a couple more minutes, and then was able to reach out and give her a few TTouches on her neck with no ill effect, in fact she started chewing the cud.

- I then tried to touch down her body, but this resulted in another spit. In response I lowered my head down to the ground and, interestingly, she copied me. We both stayed like that with our heads lower than our bodies for a minute or so. Then I straightened up and, still to one side and not making eye contact, found I was able to hold her neck gently and TTouch her body. I wanted to end on a high note so I let her out of the pen after this.

She was making her anxious hums throughout this session and clearly wanted to leave the pen so even though I managed to make physical contact while keeping her relatively calm I feel I still have a long way to go. I'll continue working with her in this way as the results from this session were so positive - fingers crossed this continues.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Alpaca Spit

I love the smell of my alpacas, all musty and grassy. On warm days I think they smell of biscuits. I do not, however, love the smell of their spit, which is indelible and lasting. One of the girls I look after is a prolific spitter. She’s had a comfortable life. She hasn’t been moved from her pals (not that she likes them much) in years, has plentiful grass, a huge paddock, beautiful view, gentle treatment, however she readily spits at humans and alpacas when they get in her way and this has earned her a reputation for being difficult and bolshie. But I think she’s misunderstood. She only spits defensively and nervously when she feels her space is being invaded. She is not, by nature, an aggressive alpaca.

I’ve been on Julie Taylor-Browne’s camelidynamics intro course and I am resolved to put it into action with this girl starting THIS WEEK. She’ll happily follow me into a pen for food and has been halter trained in the past so I’ll stand with her and see if I can win her trust and calm her down. It may take a few sessions of trial and error. I’ll report on how I get on. I want to get to the stage where I can cut her toenails without the aid of two strong men.

This is not one of our animals, rather one of the girls in a (very) small herd I look after for someone else (all our animals behave perfectly of course, hmmm).

So this is my first entry in blogland. Its completion is largely due to my dirty chicken house, the cleaning-out of which is my least favourite animal job and I’ve been filibustering all day. However it’s refusing to rain so there’s no more avoiding it..